by Susan Fenimore Cooper (1813-1894)
From: Rural Hours (Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin, and Company, 1887) by Susan Fenimore Cooper.
About the Author
Tuesday, 7th.Milder; thawing. Walking near the river saw three large waterfowl moving northward; we believed them to be loons; they were in sight only for a moment, owing to the trees above us, but we heard a loud howling cry as they flew past, like that of those birds. It is early for loons, however, and we may have been deceived. They usually appear about the first of April, remaining with us through the summer and autumn until late in December, when they go to the seashore; many winter about Long Island, many more in the Chesapeake. Not long since we saw one of these birds of unusual size, weighing nineteen pounds; it had been caught in Seneca Lake on the hook of what fishermen call a set-line, dropped to the depth of ninety-five feet, the bird having dived that distance to reach the bait. Several others have been caught in the same manner in Seneca Lake upon lines sunk from eighty to one hundred feet. It may be doubted if any other feathered thing goes so far beneath the water. There is, however, another, and a much smaller bird, the Dipper, or ousel, which is still more at home in the water than the loon, and that without being web-footed, but it is probably less of a diver. The Dipper must indeed be a very singular bird; instead of swimming on the surface of the water like ducks and geese, or beneath like the loons, or wading along the shores like many of the long-legged coast tribes, it actually runs or flies about at will over gravelly beds of mountain streams. Mr. Charles Buonaparte mentions having frequently watched them among the brooks of the Alps and Apennines, where they are found singly, or in pairs, haunting torrents and cataracts with perfect impunity, or running hither and thither along the stony bottom of more quiet streams. They cannot swim, however; and they drop suddenly into the water from above, or at times they walk leisurely in from the bank, flying as it were beneath the surface, moving with distended wings. Their nests are said to be usually built on some point projecting over a mountain stream, either in a tree, or upon a rock; and the young, when alarmed, instantly drop into the water below for safety. They are not common birds even in their native haunts, but wild and solitary creatures, smaller than our robin, and of a dark, grave plumage. Until lately the Dipper was supposed to be unknown on this continent, but more recently it has been discovered at several different points in our part of the world, frequenting, as in Europe, wild lakes and rocky streams of limpid water.
Wednesday, 8th.Very pleasant day; quite spring-like. The snow is melting fast. Spring in the air, in the light, and in the sky, although the earth is yet unconscious of its approach. We have weather as mild as this in December, but there is something in the fulness and softness of the light beaming in the sky this morning which tells of spring,the early dawn before the summer day. A little downy woodpecker and a bluejay were running about the apple-trees hunting for insects; we watched them awhile with interest, for few birds are seen here during the winter.
Thursday, 9th.Winter again; the woods are powdered with snow this morning, and every twig is cased in glittering frost-work. The pines in the churchyard are very beautifulhung with heavy wreaths of snow; but it is thawing fast, and before night they will be quite green again.
Friday, 10th.A bunch of ten partridges brought to the house; they are occasionally offered singly, or a brace or two at a time, but ten are a much larger number than are often seen together. Last autumn we frequently came upon these birds in the woodsthey were probably more numerous than usual. Several times they even found their way down into the village, which we have never known them to do before; once they were surprised in the churchyard, and twice they were found feeding among the refuse of our own garden.
Saturday, 11th.Very pleasant. Walking on the skirts of the village, this afternoon, we came to a fence blown down by some winter storm, and stepping over it strolled about the fields awhile, the first time we had walked off the beaten track since November. We were obliged to cross several snow banks, but had the pleasure at least of treading the brown earth again, and remembering that in a few short weeks the sward will be fresh and green once more. A disappointment awaited usseveral noble pines, old friends and favorites, had been felled unknown to us during the winter; unsightly stumps and piles of chips were all that remained where those fine trees had so long waved their evergreen arms. Their fall seemed to have quite changed the character of the neighboring fields; for it often lies within the power of a single group of trees to alter the whole aspect of acres of surrounding lands.
Saturday, 18th.Long walk of several miles on the lake. We fancied the waters impatient to be free: there was a constant succession of dull, rumbling, and groaning sounds beneath our feet, as we passed over the ice, so much so as to disturb our four-footed companion not a little. Dogs are often uneasy on the ice, especially when they first set out; they do not like the noise from below; but there was no danger whatever this morning. The crust is still eight or ten inches thick, and must have been much strengthened by the last severe weather. A number of sleighs and cutters were gliding about, several of the last driven by children, and well loaded with little people making the most of the last snow.
Monday, 20th.Passing beneath some maples this afternoon, we observed several with small icicles hanging from their lower branches, although there was neither ice nor snow on the adjoining trees; we broke one off, and it proved to be congealed sap, which had exuded from the branch and frozen there during the night; natural sugar candy, as it were, growing on the tree. These little icicles were quite transparent and sweetish, like eau sucrée. At this season the sap very frequently moistens the trunk and limbs of sugar maples very plentifully, in spots where there is some crevice through which it makes its way; one often sees it dropping from the branches, and probably the Indians first discovered its sweetness from this habit. One would think that the loss of so much sap would necessarily injure the trees; but it is not so, they remain perfectly healthy, after yielding every spring, gallons of the fluid.
Wednesday, 22d.A thunder-shower last night, by way of keeping the equinox; and this morning, to the joy of the whole community, the arrival of the robins is proclaimed. It is one of the great events of the year, for us, the return of the robins; we have been on the watch for them these ten days, as they generally come between the fifteenth and twenty-first of the month, and now most persons you meet, old and young, great and small, have something to say about them. No sooner is one of these first-comers seen by some member of a family, than the fact is proclaimed through the house; children run in to tell their parents, "The robins have come!" Grandfathers and grandmothers put on their spectacles and step to the windows to look at the robins; and you hear neighbors gravely inquiring of each other: "Have you seen the robins?""Have you heard the robins?" There is no other bird whose return is so generally noticed, and for several days their movements are watched with no little interest, as they run about the ground, or perch on the leafless trees. It was last night, just as the shutters were closed, that they were heard about the doors, and we ran out to listen to their first greeting, but it was too dark to see them. This morning, however, they were found in their native apple-trees, and a hearty welcome we gave the honest creatures.
Thursday, 23d.The snow is going at last; the country has the dappled look belonging properly to March in this part of the world; broad openings of brown earth are seen everywhere, in the fields and on the hillsides. The roads are deep with mud; the stage-coaches are ten and eleven hours coming the twenty-two miles over the hills from the railroad north of us.
Friday, 24th.The first plant that shows the influence of the changing season in this part of the country is very little like the delicate snow-drop, or the fragrant violet of other lands. Long before the earliest trees are in bud, or the grass shows the faintest tinge of green, the dark spathe of the skunk-cabbage makes its way in the midst of snow and ice. It is singular that at a moment when the soil is generally frost-bound, any plant should find out that spring is at hand; but toward the close of February, or beginning of March, the skunk-cabbage makes a good guess at the time of the year, and comes up in marshy spots, on the banks of ponds and streams. With us it is almost a winter plant. The dark spathe or sheath is quite handsome, variegated, when young, with purple, light green, and yellow; within it grows the spadix, not unlike a miniature pine-apple in shape and color, and covered with little protuberances, from each of which opens a purple flower. Although a very common plant, many persons familiar with its broad glossy leaves in summer have never seen the flower, and have no idea how early it blossoms. Its strong, offensive odor is better known; an American botanist has observed, that "it is exceedingly meritorious of the name it bears;" but this seems too severe, since a harsher thing could not well be said of a plant.
Saturday, 25th.High wind from the south this evening; our highest winds are generally from the southward. The withered leaves of last autumn are whirling and flying over the blighted grass of the lawns, and about the roots of the naked trees,a dance of death, as it were, in honor of Winter as he passes away.
Monday, 27th.A flock of wild pigeons wheeling beautifully over the mountain this afternoon. We have had but few this spring; there is a great difference in the numbers which visit us from year to year; some seasons they are still very numerous, large flocks passing over the valley morning and evening as they go out from their general breeding-place in quest of food. Some few years ago they selected a wood on a hill, about twenty miles from us, for their spring encampment, making as usual great havoc among the trees and bushes about them; at that time they passed over the valley in its length, large unbroken flocks several miles in extent succeeding each other. There have not been so many here since that season.
Tuesday, 28th.The great final spring thaw going on. Our winter deluge of snow is sinking into the earth, softening her bosom for the labours of the husbandman, or running off into the swollen streams, toward the sea. Cloudy sky with mist on the hills, in which the pines look nobly; the older trees especially, half revealed, half shrouded, seem giant phantoms, standing about the hillsides. The simple note of the robin is heard through the gloom,a cheering sound in these dull hours; perched on the topmost boughs of the trees, they are taking an observation, looking out for a convenient building notch.
Wednesday, 29th.Lovely day; soft clear sunshine, and delightful air from the west playing in the leafless branches, and among the green threads of the pine foliage. It is not surprising that the pines, when they
The whole country is brown again, save here and there a narrow line of snow under some fence on the hills, or a patch marking a drift which all the storms of winter have helped to pile up.
Nothing can look more dismal than the lake just now; its surface is neither snow, ice, nor water, but a dull crust, which gives it a sullen expression quite out of character with the landscape generally, such a day as this; the sun is warming the brown hills, the old pines, and hemlocks with a spring glow after their long chill, but not a smile can be drawn from the lake, which grows more dark and gloomy every hour. As if to show us what we lose, there is just one corner open near the outlet, and it is beautiful in blended shades of coloring, rose and blue, clear and soft, as the eye of Spring.
Thursday, 30th.The song-sparrows and bluebirds are here, and have been with us several days. The robins are getting quite numerous; they seem to come in detachments, or possibly they only pass from one neighborhood to another in flocks. Their note is very pleasant, and after the silent winter, falls with double sweetness on the ear. Their portly persons and warm red jackets make them very conspicuous, flying about among the naked branches, or running over the blighted grass. They are more frequently seen on the ground than any other bird we have, excepting the sparrow, and it is amusing to watch the different gait of the two. The sparrow glides along with great agility and ease; whether in the grass or on the gravel, his movement is light and free: but robin usually makes more fuss; he runs by starts, drops his head, raises his tail, moves rapidly for a few feet, and then stops suddenly, repeating the same course of manoeuvres until he takes flight. Our robin never builds on the ground; his nest is placed in trees, where, from its size, it is very conspicuous. He is only musical early in spring; the rest of the year he is a very silent bird. Although differing in many respects from the Robin Redbreast of Europe, yet with the name he also inherits the favor of his kinsman, getting all the credit in this part of the world of watching over the Babes in the Woods, picking berries to feed them, and gathering leaves for their covering. This afternoon, as we saw the robins running over the graves in the churchyard, or perched on a tombstone looking at us with those large thoughtful eyes of theirs, we came to the conclusion that our own Redbreast must be quite as capable of a good deed, as his European brother. At this season, we seldom pass the churchyard without finding robins there; they probably have many nests among the trees.
Friday, 31st.The snowdrop seldom opens here before the middle or third week of April, remaining in flower until the tulips fade, early in June; it would seem less hardy with us than in its native climate, for in England it blooms in February, and it has been found by M. de Candolle on the mountains of Switzerland with its flowers actually encased in snow and ice.
One hears a great deal about the sudden outburst of spring in America, but in this part of the country, the earlier stages of the season are assuredly very slow, and for many weeks its progress is gradual. It is only later in the day, when the buds are all full and the flowers ready to open, that we see the sudden gush of life and joyousness which is indeed at that moment almost magical in its beautiful effects. But this later period is a brief one; we have scarcely time to enjoy the sudden affluence of spring ere she leaves us to make way for summer, and people exclaim at the shortness of the season in America. Meanwhile, spring is with us in March, when we are yet sitting by the fireside, and few heed her steps; now she betrays her presence in the sky, now in the waters, with the returning birds, upon some single tree, in a solitary plant, and each milder touch gives pleasure to those who are content to await the natural order of things.
Saturday, April 1st.Fresh maple sugar offered for sale to-day. A large amount of this sugar is still made in our neighborhood, chiefly for home consumption on the farms, where it is a matter of regular household use, many families depending on it altogether, keeping only a little white sugar for sickness; and it is said that children have grown up in this country without tasting any but maple sugar.
Some farmers have a regular "sugar-bush," where none but maples are suffered to grow; and on the older farms you occasionally pass a beautiful grove of this kind entirely clear of under-wood, the trees standing on a smooth green turf. More frequently, however, a convenient spot is chosen in the woods where maples are plenty. The younger trees are not tapped, as they are injured by the process; it is only after they have reached a good sizeten or twelve inches in diameterthat they are turned to account in this way; twenty years at least must be their age, as they rarely attain to such a growth earlier; from this period they continue to yield their sap freely until they decay. It is really surprising that any tree should afford to lose so much of its natural nourishment without injury; but maples that have been tapped for fifty years, or more, seem just as luxuriant in their foliage and flowers as those that are untouched. The amount of sap yielded by different trees variessome will give nearly three times as much as others; the fluid taken from one tree is also much sweeter and richer than that of another; there seems to be a constitutional difference between them. From two to five pounds of sugar are made from each tree, and four or five gallons of sap are required to every pound. The fluid begins to run with the first mild weather in March; the usual period for sugar-making is about two weeksone year more, another less.
Two or three hundred trees are frequently tapped in the same wood, and as the sap is running, the fires are burning, and the sugar is boiling all together, day and night, it is a busy moment at the "bush." The persons at work there, usually eat and sleep on the spot until their task is done; and it is a favorite rallying place with the children and young people of the farms, who enjoy vastly this touch of camp life, to say nothing of the new sugar, and a draught of fresh sap now and then.
There are at present farms in this county where two or three thousand pounds of sugar are prepared in one season. Formerly much of our sugar was sent to Albany and New York, and a portion is still sold there to the confectioners. During the early history of the county, rents were usually paid in producewheat, potash, sugar, etc.,for the convenience of the tenants, and it is on record that in one year sixty thousand pounds were received in this way by the leader of the little colony about this lake; a portion of it was refined and made into pretty little specimen loaves at a sugar-house in Philadelphia, and it was quite as white and pure as that of the cane. Maple sugar sells in the village this year for nine cents a pound, and good Havana for six cents.
A story is told in the village of a Scotch stocking-weaver, who some years since bought a farm near the lake, and the first spring after his arrival in the country was so successful with his maple-trees, that in the midst of his labors he came into the village and gave large orders for sap-buckets, pans, furnaces, etc. The good folk were rather surprised at the extent of these preparations, and inquiries were made about this grand sugar-bush. They were told by their new neighbor that as yet he had tapped only a small number of trees, but he intended soon to go to work in earnest among the maples, and, indeed, had quite made up his mind, "canny Scot" as he was, to "give up farming altogether, and keep to sugar-making all the year round;"a plan which, it may be imagined, tickled the fancy of Jonathan not a little, knowing the ways of the maples as he did.
According to the last general census, the whole amount of maple sugar made during one year in this country, with a population of 49,658, was 351,748 pounds, or nearly eight pounds to each individual. The whole amount of sugar made in the State was 10,048,109 pounds.
Sugar of one sort or another is made in almost every State; Delaware and the District of Columbia are the only exceptions. Maple sugar is made in Virginia and Kentucky.
Monday, 3d. Delightful day; first walk in the woods, and what a pleasure it is to be in the forest once more! The earlier buds are swelling perceptiblythose of the scarlet maple and elm flowers on the hills, with the sallows and alders near the streams. We were struck more than usual with the mosses and lichens, and the coloring of the bark of the different trees; some of the chestnuts, and birches, and maples show twenty different shades, through grays and greens, from a dull white to blackish brown. These can scarcely vary much with the seasons, but they attract the eye more just now from the fact that in winter we are seldom in the woods; and at this moment, before the leaves are out, there is more light falling on the limbs and trunks than in summer. The ground mosses are not yet entirely revived; some of the prettiest varieties feel the frost sensibly, and have not yet regained all their coloring.
The little evergreen plants throw a faint tinge of verdure over the dead leaves which strew the forest; in some spots there is quite a patch of them, but in other places they scarcely show at all. We have many in our woods, all pleasant little plants; their glossy leaves have generally a healthy character, and most of them bear pretty and fragrant blossoms at different seasons. Some ferns have been preserved, as usual, under the snow; though they are sensitive to the frost, yet in favorable spots they seem to escape until the snow falls and shields them, preserving them through the winter in a sort of half evergreen state, like some other garden and field plants. This year there are more of these fern leaves than usual, and they are pleasing, though flattened to the ground by the snow which has been weighing them down.
Nothing like a flower in all the wide woods. But the ground laurel is in bud and will blossom before long; we raked up the dead leaves to look for it, and some of the buds are very large and promising.
The robins, and sparrows, and bluebirds were singing very sweetly as we came home toward evening; there are many more birds in the village than in the woods. The wheat is looking green; the other fields are still brown. Every day the lake grows more dull and gloomy.
Tuesday, 4th.The frogs were heard last night for the first time this season.
Friday, 6th.Bright sun, but cool air. There is no current in our lake, or so little, at least, it is scarcely perceptible; not enough to carry the ice off, and it melts slowly away. Heavy rains are a great help in getting rid of it, and after an opening is made in the weak crust, a high wind will work upon it like magic, dashing it into fragments, and piling it on the shores, when it vanishes in a very short time. We have known the lake well covered, and men walking upon the ice at two o'clock, when at four on the same daythanks to a high windthe waters were entirely free. For some days now the ice has been lying quite detached from the shores, looking all the more unsightly for the narrow border of clear blue water encircling the gloomy island.
Explored a sunny bank in the woods, with the hope of finding a stray ground laurel, but we saw only the buds. Berries were very plenty; it was a perfect bed of squaw-vine and partridge berry. Stout young pines threw their branches over the bank, and the warm afternoon sun, pouring upon trees and plants, brought out strongly the aromatic odors of both; the air was highly scented with this fresh, wild perfume of the forest. A wood of evergreens is generally fragrant; our own pines and cedars are highly so; even the fallen pine leaves preserve their peculiar odor for some time.
The little partridge plant is also very aromatic. Like the orange-tree, this humble plant bears fruit and flowers together; its white cups hanging side by side with the coral berries through the mild weather, from early in May to the sharpest frosts in October. There is no period of the year when you may not find the berries, but they are in season late in autumn and in the succeeding spring. The snow under which they lie for months ripens them, though they are perhaps more spicy in the autumn. Their form when perfect is remarkable for a fruit; it has five sharp drooping points at the apex, and within these lies, as it were, a second smaller rose-colored berry, containing the tiny seed; they are seldom found in this mature state until a year old, and it is in June that the berries break open and drop the seed. The birds are very fond of this berry, and some eat the spicy little seeds while they reject the fleshy part.
The squaw-vine, with its long creeping branches, is a constant companion of the partridge berry the year round, common in all the woods. Its pretty, rounded leaflets are regularly strung in pairs on thread-like vines, often a yard or more in length, with here and there a large red berry in their midst; these last are edible, though insipid. The flowers are slender, delicate pink bells, pale without, deep rose-color within; they are quite fragrant, and oddly enough the two blossoms form but one large berry, the fruit being marked with a double face, as it were, bearing the remains of the two calices.
It would seem that among our evergreen plants a larger proportion are fragrant than among their deciduous companions; it cannot, however, be the strength of the plant which gives it this additional charm, for what is so sweet as the mignonette, or the European violet, both fragile plants?
Sunday, 9th.Six o'clock, P. M.The lake has been opening all day. The ice began to break up early in the morning; between the time of going to church and returning, we found great changes; and now, so far as the eye can reach, the blue waters are once more quite free. The day has been cool; wind from the northwest.
Monday, 10th.Lovely weather; air warm and soft. The open lake very beautiful. A decided green tinge rising upon the earth; the wheat-fields are always the first to show the pleasant change as they revive after the severe winter frosts; then the grass begins to color in the orchards, about the roots of the apple-trees, and patches brighten in sunny sheltered spots, along the roadsides and about the springs. This year, the first grass that turned green within view was beneath a tuft of young locusts, and it now continues some shades brighter than all about it, though for what reason one cannot say. Possibly it may be owing to the fact that the locust leaves decay soon after falling, and thus nourish the grass; all traces of them soon disappear. The cattle, both cows and horses, seem partial to the grass beneath the locusts; it is amusing to watch them make their way in and out among a grove of young locusts armed with thorns; they don't like these at all, but still the grass tempts them in, and after feeding there, you may see them backing very carefully out again.
Charming walk. Went out with the hope of finding some flowers, but were unsuccessful; none of the buds were open enough to show the coloring of a blossom. Saw two butterflies on the highwaya brown, and a black and yellow. The cedar birds have come; they winter in the State, but never, I believe, among our hills. Although disappointed in our search for flowers, the view of the lake was enjoyment enough for one day. Standing on the hillside within the woods, we looked down beneath an archway of green branches, and between noble living columns of pine and hemlock, upon the blue waters below, as though we were gazing at them through the elaborate mouldings of a great Gothic windowa fine frame for any picture. Several boats were moving about, and there was a sparkling ripple playing in the sunshine, as though the waters enjoyed their freedom.
Tuesday, 11th.Coming in from a walk this afternoon, we found a beautiful oriole perched upon the top-most bough of a locust on the lawn; no doubt he had just alighted after his journey, for they travel singly and by day, the males appearing first. The new comers among the birds often perch in that way, with an observing look, on their first arrival. It is early for orioles, but we gave our guest a hearty welcome, with an invitation to build near the house; we seldom fail to have one of their hanging nests on our narrow lawn, and some years two families have built there. Our visitor looked brilliantly handsome, as he sat high on the leafless tree, in his coat of golden red and black; but in spite of their fanciful costume, the orioles are just as well behaved as the robinsharmless, innocent birds, bearing an excellent character. We all know how industrious and skillful they are in building; both work together at weaving the intricate nest, though the wife is the most diligent. They are particularly affectionate to their young; if any accident befalls the brood, they grieve so earnestly that they actually forget to eat, returning repeatedly to the spoiled nest, as if in hopes of yet finding some one of their little flock. Their voices are remarkably deep and clear, but they have few notes; those few they will sometimes vary, however, by imitating their neighbors, betraying an inclination to mimicry. One taste they share in common with the humming-bird and some others; they like flowers, the apple blossoms especially, feeding on them as long as they last, and even commencing their feast before the buds are well open. From the moment they arrive, you see them running about the apple branches, as if already on the watch, and so long as the trees are in bloom, you may hear their full, clear voices in the orchards at most hours of the day. Probably they like other flowers also, since the apple-trees are not indigenous here, and they must have begun to feed upon some native blossoms of the forest; they are occasionally seen in the wild cherry-trees, and are said to be partial to the tulip-trees also; but these last do not grow in our neighborhood. Mr. Wilson says the Baltimore oriole is not found in the pine countries, and yet they are common birds hereregular members of our summer flock; and we have remarked they are very often seen and heard among the pines of the churchyard; it is quite a favorite haunt of theirs.
Wednesday, 12th.On one of the hills of Highborough, several miles from the village, there is a point where almost every spring a lingering snow-bank is seen long after the country generally looks pleasant and life-like. Some years it lies there in spite of warm rains and south winds and sunshine, until after the first flowers and butterflies have appeared, while other seasons it goes much earlier. Time gives greater consistency and powers of endurance to ice and snow, just as a cold heart grows more obdurate with every fruitless attempt to soften its foundations; old snow, in particular, wears away very slowlyas slowly as an old prejudice!
Friday, 14th.Rainy morning. Passing through one of the village streets this morning, we saw a robin's nest in a very low and exposed position. The mother bird was on the nest as we passed, sitting, of course; she slowly moved her large brown eyes toward us as we stopped to watch her, but without the least expression of fear;indeed, she must see the village people coming and going all day long, as she sits there on her nest.
What a very remarkable instinct is that of a sitting bird. By nature the winged creatures are full of life and activity, apparently needing little repose, flitting the livelong day through the fields and gardens, seldom pausing except to feed, to dress their feathers, or to sing;abroad, many of them, before dawn, and still passing to and fro across the darkening sky of the latest twilight;capable also, when necessary, of a prolonged flight which stretches across seas and continents. And yet there is not one of these little winged mothers but what will patiently sit, for hour after hour, day after day, upon her unhatched brood, warming them with her breastcarefully turning themthat all may share the heat equally, and so fearful lest they should be chilled, that she will rather suffer hunger herself than leave them long exposed. That it is no unusual drowsiness which comes over them at this time, rendering the duty more easy, is evident, for you seldom find them sleeping; their bright eyes are usually open, and they look, indeed, quite thoughtful, as though already reflecting about their little family. The male among some tribes occasionally relieves his mate by taking her place awhile, and among all varieties he exerts himself to bring her food, and to sing for her amusement. But altogether, this voluntary imprisonment of those busy, lively creatures is a striking instance of that generous, enduring patience which is a noble attribute of parental affection.
Saturday, 15th.Cool rain, at intervals, for the last day or two; pleasant again this afternoon. Walked in the woods looking for flowers; went some distance in vain, but at last, near the summit of the hill, we found a bunch of fresh ground laurel, the first wild blossoms of the year to us, and prized accordingly; there were many more in full bud, but no other open.
Since we were last in the woods, the squirrel-cups (hepaticas ) have sprung up; their modest little lilac cups, in half-open buds, are hanging singly here and there over the dead leaves, and very pretty they are in this stage of their short life; they have a timid, modest look, hanging leafless from their downy stalks, as if half afraid, half ashamed of being alone in the wide woods; for their companion, the ground laurel, remains closely wrapped in the withered leaves. It cannot be said that either of these plants is fairly in bloom; they are only openinga slow process with the arbutus, but a rapid one with the hepatica. The mosses are in great beauty now; several varieties are in flower, and exquisitely delicate; the dark brownish moss, with its white-capped flowers and tiny red stalk, and a dainty companion of light green, with a blossom of the same tint, are in perfection. Wherever we went, they were so abundant, and so beautiful in their spring freshness, as to delight the eye.
Tuesday, 18th.The fishing-lights enliven the lake now, of an evening, and they are often seen well into the night. They are spearing pickerel, a good fish, though inferior to some others in our lake. Formerly, there were no pickerel here, but some years since they were introduced from a smaller sheet of water, ten or twelve miles to the westward, and now they have become so abundant that they are the most common fish we havetaken at all seasons and in various ways. They are caught in summer by "trolling," a long line being thrown out and drawn in from the stern by the fisherman, who stands, while an oarsman rows the boat quietly along; during the warm weather, one may see at almost any hour of the morning or afternoon, some fishing skiff passing slowly to and fro in this way, one man at the oars, one at the line, trolling for pickerel. In the evening, they carry on the sport with lights in the bows of the boats, to attract the fish.
Saturday, 22th.The sky cloudy, with April showers, but we ventured to take a short walk. There were never more brown flowers on the elms; it is unusual to see them in such very great abundance; the trees are thickly clothed with them. The soft maple is also showing its crimson blossoms. The grass is growing beautifully; there is a perceptible difference from day to day, and it is pleasant to note how the cattle enjoy the fresh, tender herbage of the pastures after the dry fodder of the barn-yard. We followed the Green Brook through the fields into the woods; on its banks gathered some pretty pink bells of the spring beauty.
The barn swallows have made their appearance, and the flocks of the white-billed swallows seem to have increased by new arrivals.
Tuesday, 25th.Charming day. Went into the woods this afternoon to gather a harvest of trailing arbutus. It takes many to make a pretty bunch, for the leaves are large and often in the way, so that one is obliged to use the scissors freely when making them into a nosegay. The plant stretches its vine-like, woody branches far and wide over the hillside in thick patches; its large, strong, rounded leaves grow in close tuftssmall and large togetherand, although tough in texture, they are often defective in rusty spots, especially the old leaves which have been lying under the snow; in summer, they are brighter and more perfect. The flowers grow at the end of the stems, from two to a dozen, or fifteen in a bunch, pink or white, larger or smaller, varying in size, number, and tint; they are not very much unlike the blossom of a hyacinth, though scarcely so large, and not curled at the edges. They are very fragrant; not only sweet, but with a wild freshness in the perfume which is very agreeable.
There is more than usual interest in gathering these flowers, from their peculiar habits. One may easily pass over ground where they abound without observing them, unless one knows their tricks of old; for they often play hide and go seek with you, crouching about old stones, and under dead leaves, and among mosses. But here and there you may see a pretty fresh cluster peeping out from among last year's withered herbage, as though it bloomed from lifeless stalks; and when you stoop to gather it, raking away the dead leaves, you find a dozen bunches in near neighborhood under the faded covering. Perhaps half these sweet flowers lie closely shrouded in this way under the fallen foliage of the forest. After coming at length to the right ground, this afternoon, we were very successful; they are in full season, and never were finerlarge and very fragrant. Several bunches of those we gathered were growing so prettily, that it seemed a pity to pull them; some showing their fragrant heads among rich mosses, while others were hooded in large, withered leaves of the oak, chestnut, and maple. The sun had dropped low while we were busy at our pleasant task, but we lingered a moment to look down upon the village as it lay in the valley below, the picture of cheerful quiet, and upon the lake, with sweet evening tints playing over the water; and then descending the hill at a quick pace, we succeeded in reaching the village before the sun had quite set. Not a single squirrel-cup was seen on our path to-day, yet they abound in many places.
Wednesday, 26th.The young plants in the gardens are beginning to show in those beds which were made early; peas, beets, etc., etc. The good people of the village are many of them busy now with their gardens, and pleasant, cheerful work it is. From the time of Adam down, it has always looked well to see man, or woman either, working in a garden. In a village, one sees the task going on regularly in all the little neighborhood, at the same moment. We thought of poor — —, who told his worthy mother he should like to live to see them make garden once more in the villagepoor fellow, he has been in his grave these five weeks.
Thursday, 27th.Long, pleasant walk. A humming-bird flew past us, the first we had seen.
Followed an old wood road for some distance. Squirrel-cups in abundance; though very regular in other respects, these little flowers are not all colored alike: some are white, others pink, lilac, or grayish blue. They are a nice little flower, with a modest, unobtrusive air, which is very engaging. When they first appear, they shoot up singly, each blossom alone on its downy stalk; but now they have gained courage, standing in little groups, gleaming gayly above the withered foliage. Their young, downy leaves do not show yet, although a few of last year's growth are found in a half-evergreen state. One often sees these flowers at the foot of trees, growing on their roots, as it were; and perhaps it is this position, which, added to their downy, furred leaves and stems, has given them the name of squirrel-cupsa prettier name, certainly, for a wood flower, than liver-wort, or its Latin version, hepatica.
The small yellow violets are springing up; they also show their golden heads before their leaves are out. It seems singular that the flower, which is the most precious and delicate part of the plant, should ever be earlier than the leaf, yet it is the case with many plants, great and small; among trees it is very common. Doubtless there is a good reason for it, which one would like to know, as the learned in such matters have probably found it out.
The arbutus is now open everywhere in the woods and groves. How pleasant it is to meet the same flowers year after year! If the blossoms were liable to changeif they were to become capricious and irregularthey might excite more surprise, more curiosity, but we should love them less; they might be just as bright, and gay, and fragrant under other forms, but they would not be the violets, and squirrel-cups, and ground laurels we loved last year. Whatever your roving fancies may say, there is a virtue in constancy which has a reward above all that fickle change can bestow, giving strength and purity to every affection of life, and even throwing additional grace about the flowers which bloom in our native fields. We admire the strange and brilliant plant of the green-house, but we love most the simple flowers we have loved of old, which have bloomed many a spring, through rain and sunshine, on our native soil.
Thursday, 27th.A flock of the rusty black-bird or grakles about the village; they have been roving to and fro several days.
All kinds of black-birds are rare here; they are said to have been very numerous indeed at the settlement of the country, but have very much diminished in numbers of late years. And yet, they are still very common in some of the older parts of the country, where they are a very great annoyance to the farmers. These rusty grakles are northern birds; the common black-bird, occasionally seen here in small parties, comes from the south. The red-wing black-bird, or starling, we have never seen in this country; it may possibly be found here, but certainly is not so common as elsewhere. Nor is the cow-bunting often seen with us; and as all these birds are more or less gregarious, they soon attract attention wherever they appear. They are arrant corn thieves, all of them. It is odd, that although differing in many respects, these birds of black plumage, with the crow at their head, have an especial partiality for the maize.
Saturday, 29th.The tamaracks are putting forth their bluish green leaves, the lightest in tint of all their tribe; the young cones are also coming out, reminding one somewhat of small strawberries by their color and form, but they soon become decidedly purple, then green, and at last brown. The tamarack is very common about the marshy grounds of this county, attaining its full height in our neighborhood.
May, 1st.Cloudy sky; showery; not so bright as becomes May-day. Nevertheless, we managed to seize the right moment for a walk, with only a little sprinkling at the close. By the rails of a meadow fence, we found a fine border of the white puccoon; these flowers, with their large, pure white petals, look beautifully on the plant, but they soon fall to pieces after being gathered, and the juice in their stalks stains one's hands badly. We gathered a few, however, by way of doing our Maying, adding to them some violets scattered along the roadside, and a bunch of the golden flowers of the marsh marigold, which enticed us off the road into a low, boggy spot, by their bright blossoms; a handsome flower, thisthe country people call it cowslip, though differing entirely from the true plant of that name.
Wednesday, 3d.Pleasant walk on the open hillside. Sweet, quiet day; if the leaves were out, they would not stir, for the winds are all asleep. Walking over pasture-ground, we did not find many flowers; only a few violets here and there, and some young strawberry flowers, the first fruit-bearing blossom of the year. The fern is coming up, its wooly heads just appearing above ground, the broad frond closely rolled within; presently the down will grow darker, and the leaves begin to uncurl. The humming-birds, and some of the many warblers, use the wool of the young fern-stalks to line their nests.
The valley looked pleasantly from the hillside this afternoon; the wheat-fields are now very brilliant in their verdure, some of a golden green, others of a deeper shade. Nearly half the fields are ploughed this season, and the farms look like new-made gardens. As we stood on the quiet, open down, a sweet song, from a solitary bird, broke the stillness charmingly: it came from the edge of a bare wood above, but we could not see the little singer.
The beech-bushes have a comical look at this season, growing many together, and huddling their dead leaves so tenaciously about their lower branches, they put one in mind of a flock of bantam chickens, with well feathered legs; one would think, these warm May days, they would be glad to throw off their winter furbelows.
Thursday, 4th.The chimney-swallows have come in their usual large numbers, and our summer flock of swallows is now complete. Of the six more common varieties of this bird found in North America, we have four in our neighborhood, and the others are also found within a short distance of us.
The white-bellied swallows came first to the village this year; they are generally supposed to be rather later than the barn-swallows. This pretty bird has been confounded with the European martin; but it is peculiar to America, and confined, it would seem, to our part of the continent, for their summer flight reaches to the fur countries, and they winter in Louisiana. It is said to resemble the water-martin of Europe in many of its habits, being partial to the water, often perching and roosting on the sedges; they are very numerous on the coast of Long Island, but they are also very common in this inland county. Occasionally, you see them on the branches of trees, which is not usual with others of their tribe.
The barn-swallow resembles, in many respects, the European chimney-swallow; yet it is, in fact, a different varietyentirely American. Where the European bird is white, ours is bright chestnut. They are one of the most numerous birds we have; scarcely a barn in the country is without them; they seldom choose any other building for their home. They are very busy, cheerful, happy tempered creatures, remarkably peaceable in their disposition, friendly to each other, and to man also. Though living so many together, it is remarkable that they do not quarrel, showing what may be done in this way by sensible birds, though very sensible men and women seem, too often, to feel no scruples about quarrelling themselves, or helping their neighbors to do so. They are often seen at rest on the barn roofs, and just before leaving us for a warmer climate, they never fail to collect out of doors on the fences and plants. They go as far north as the sources of the Mississippi, and winter far beyond our southern boundary.
The chimney-swallow is also wholly American. The European bird, which builds in chimneys, is very different in many respects, placing its nest frequently in other situations, while our own is never known, under any circumstances, to build elsewhere. Before the country was civilized, they lived in hollow trees; but now, with a unanimity in their plans which is very striking, they have entirely deserted the forest, and taken up their abode in our chimneys. They still use twigs, however, for their nests, showing that they were originally a forest bird; while many others, as the robin and the oriole, for instance, gladly avail themselves of any civilized materials they find lying about, such as strings, thread, paper, etc., etc. Our chimney swift has no beauty to boast of; it is altogether plain, and almost bat-like in appearance, but, in its way, it is remarkably clever and skilful. It is as good at clinging to a bare wall, or the trunk of a tree, as the woodpecker, its tail being shaped like that of those birds, and used for the same purpose, as a support. The air is their peculiar element; here they play and chase the insects, and feed and sing after their fashion, with an eager, rapid twitter; they have little to do with the earth, and the plants, and the trees, never alighting except within a chimney. They feed entirely on the wing, supplying their young also, when they are able to fly, in the same manner, and they seem to drink flying as they skim over the water. A cloudy, damp day is their delight, and one often sees them out in the rain. How they provide the twigs for their nests, one would like to know, for they are never observed looking for their materials on the ground, or about the trees;probably they pick them up as they skim the earth. Their activity is wonderful, for they are on the wing earlier and later than any other of their busy tribe. Often of a summer's evening one sees them pass when it is quite darknear nine o'clockand the next morning they will be up, perhaps, at three; they are said, indeed, to feed their young at night, so they can have but little rest at that season. Some persons shut up their chimneys against them, on account of the noise, which keeps one awake at times; and they have a trick of getting down into rooms through the fire-place, which is troublesome to neat housekeepers; the greatest objection against them, however, is the rubbish they collect in the chimneys. Still one cannot quarrel with them; for their rapid wheeling flight, and eager twitter about the roof of a house, give it a very cheerful character through the summer. They will not build in a flue that is used for fire, but mind the smoke so little that they go in and out, and put up their nests in an adjoining flue of the same chimney. They remain later than the barn-swallow, go farther north in spring, and winter beyond the limits of our northern continent.
The purple martin is another bird belonging to our Western World, entirely different from the martin of Europe; it is a bird of wide range, however, over this continent, reaching from the Equator to the northern fur countries. The largest of its tribe, it is a very bold, courageous creature, attacking even hawks and eagles when they come into its neighborhood; but it is always very friendly and familiar with man. Mr. Wilson mentions that not only the white man builds his martin-house for these friends of his, but the negroes on the southern plantations put up long canes with some contrivance to invite them to build about their huts; and the Indians also cut off the top branch of a sapling, near their wigwams, and hang a gourd or calabash on the prongs for their convenience. Although these birds are so common in most parts of the country, yet they are comparatively rare with us. Formerly they are said to have been more numerous, but at present so little are they known, that most people will tell you there are none about the village. On making inquiries, we found that many persons had never even heard their name. Bird-nesting boys know nothing of them, while farmers and gardeners, by the half dozen, told us there were no martins about. We stopped before an out-building, the other day, with a martin-house in the gable, and asked if there were any birds in it. "There are no martins in this neighborhood," was the answer, adding that they had been seen some dozen miles off. Again, passing through a barn-yard, we asked a boy if there were any martins there. "Martins?" he inquired, looking puzzled. "No, marm; I never heard tell of such birds hereabouts." The same question was very often asked, and only in two or three instances, received a different answer; some elderly persons replying that formerly there certainly were martins here. At length, however, we discovered a few, found their abode, and observed them coming and going, and a little later, we saw others on a farm about two miles from the village; still, their numbers must be very small when compared with the other varieties which everybody knows, and which are almost constantly in sight through the warm weather. It is possible that the flock may have been diminished, of late years, by some accidental cause; but such, at least, is the state of things just now.
The pretty little bank-swallow, another very common and numerous tribe, is entirely a stranger here, though found on the banks of lakes and rivers at no great distance; we have seen them, indeed, in large flocks, among the sand-hills near the Susquehanna, just beyond the southern borders of the county. This is the only swallow common to both hemispheres, and it is of this bird that M. de Châteaubriand remarks he had found it everywhere, in all his wanderings over Asia, Africa, Europe, and America.
That the cliff-swallow should also be a stranger here is not at all remarkable; a few years since, there were none east of the Mississippi. In 1824, a single pair first appeared within the limits of New York, at a tavern near Whitehall, a short distance from Lake Champlain; shortly after, Governor De Witt Clinton introduced them to the world at large by writing a notice of them; they are now rapidly increasing and spreading themselves over the country. The Rocky Mountains seem to have been their great rallying ground; they are found there in great numbers; and as the Prince of Canino observes, they have advanced eastward to meet the white man. These newcomers remain but a short time, about six weeks in June and July, and then disappear again, taking flight for tropical America. They are entirely unknown in Europe, or any part of the old world. They have more variety in their markings than most swallows.
Friday, 5th.Fine shower last night, with thunder and lightning; everything growing delightfully. Such days and nights as these, in early spring, the effect produced on vegetation by electricity and rain together is really wonderful. M. de Candolle, the great botanist, mentions an instance in which the branches of a grapevine grew, during a thunder shower, no less than an inch and a quarter in the course of an hour and a half! Really, at that rate, one might almost see the plant grow. The young buds are coming out beautifully; the tufts of scarlet flowers on the soft maples are now daintily tipped with the tender green of the leaf-buds in their midst, and the long green flowers of the sugar maple have come out on many trees; yesterday, there were none to be seen. White blossoms are opening in drooping clusters, also, on the naked branches of the Juneberry; this is a tree which adds very much to the gayety of our spring; it is found in every wood, and always covered with long, pendulous bunches of flowers, whether a small shrub or a large tree. There is one in the churchyard, of great beauty, a tree perhaps five-and-thirty feet in height; and standing among evergreens as it does, it looks beautifully at this season, when covered with its pendent white blossoms. There is a tree in Savoy, called there the amelanchier, near of kin to this of ours. The poplars, or popples as the country people call them, are already half-leaved. How rapid is the advance of spring at this moment of her joyous approach! And how beautiful are all the plants in their graceful growth, the humblest herb unfolding its every leaf in beauty, full of purpose and power!
Saw a little blue butterfly on the highway. Gathered a fine bunch of pink ground laurel, unusually large and fragrant; they have quite outlasted the squirrel-cups, which are withered. Saw a fine maroon moose-flowerits three-leaved blossom as large as a tulipthe darkest and largest of our early spring flowers.
Saturday, 6th.Warm, soft day. The birds are in an ecstacy. Goldfinches, orioles, and blue-birds enliven the budding trees with their fine voices and gay plumage; wrens and song-sparrows are hopping and singing about the shrubbery; robins and chipping-birds hardly move out of your way on the grass and gravel, and scores of swallows are twittering in the air, more active, more chatty than ever;all busy, all happy, all at this season more or less musical. Birds who scarcely sing, have a peculiar cry, heard much more clearly and frequently at this season than any other;the twittering of the swallows, for instance, and the prolonged chirrup of the chipping-bird, so like that of the locust when heard from the trees. The little creatures always enjoy a fine day extremely, but with more zest during this their honeymoon, than at any other season. Our summer company have now all arrived, or, rather, our runaways have come back; for it is pleasant to remember that these are really at home here, born and raised, as the Kentuckians say, in these groves, and now have come back to build nests of their own among their native branches. The happiest portion of their bird-life is passed with us. Many of those we see flitting about, at present, are building within sight and sound of our windows; some years we have counted between forty and fifty nests in our own trees, without including a tribe of swallows. Many birds like a village life; they seem to think man is a very good-natured animal, building chimneys and roofs, planting groves, and digging gardens for their especial benefit; only, they wonder not a little, that showing as he does a respectable portion of instinct, he should yet allow those horrid creaturesboys and catsto run at large in his domain.
Monday, 8th.On many of the sugar maples the long flowers are hanging in slender green clusters, while on others they have not yet come out; and year after year we find the same difference between various individuals of the same species of maple, more marked, it would seem, among these than with other trees. Some are much in advance of others, and that without any apparent causetrees of the same age and size, growing side by side, varying this way, showing a constitutional difference, like that observed in human beings among members of one family. Frequently the young leaves of the sugar maple are only a day or two behind the flowers; they begin to appear, at least, at that time, but on others, again, they wait until the blossoms are falling. These green flowers, hanging in full clusters on long filaments, give a pleasing character to the tree, having the look of foliage at a little distance. Generally they are a pale green, but at times, on some trees, straw-color. The sugar-maples, unlike many other flowering trees, do not blossom young; the locusts, amelanchiers, fruit trees generally, etc., blossom when mere shrubs three or four feet high; but the sugar maple and the scarlet maple are good-sized trees before they flower. There are several about the village which are known to be twenty years old, and they have not yet blossomed.
The American maplesthe larger sorts, at leastthe sugar, the scarlet, and the silver maples, are assuredly very fine trees. A healthful luxuriance of growth marks their character; regular and somewhat rounded in form when allowed to grow in freedom, their branches and trunks are very rarely distorted, having almost invariably an easy upward inclination more or less marked. The bark on younger trees, and upon the limbs of those which are older, is often very beautifully mottled in patches or rings of clear grays, lighter and darkerat times almost as white as that on the delicate birches. The northern side of the branches is usually with us much more speckled than that toward the south. They are also very cleanly, free from troublesome vermin or insects. Few trees have a finer foliage; deep lively green in color, while the leaves are large, of a handsome form, smooth and glossy, and very numerous; for it is a peculiarity of theirs, that they produce every year many small shoots, each well covered with leaves. When bare in winter, one remarks that their fine spray is decidedly thicker than that of many other trees. To these advantages they add their early flowers in spring, and a beautiful brilliancy of coloring in the autumn. The European maple, a different tree entirely, comes into leaf after the elm, and is even later than the ash; but those of this part of the world have the farther merit of being numbered among the earlier trees of the forest.
With the exception of the ash-leaved variety, a Western tree, all the American maples are found in this county. The moose-wood, 1 a small tree of graceful, airy growth, and bearing the prettiest flowers of the tribe, to whose young shoots the moose is said to have been so partial; the mountain maple, a shrub growing in thick clumps with an upright flower, the scarlet maple, the silver, the sugar, and the black sugar maples, are all included among our trees. They all, except the shrubby mountain maple, yield a portion of sweet sap, though none is so liberal in the supply as the common sugar maple. The very largest trees of this kind in our neighborhood are said to be about three feet in diameter, and those of forest growth attain to a great height, from sixty to eighty feet; but the common maples about the country are rarely more than eighteen inches in diameter, and forty or fifty feet high. 2
A pleasant hour toward evening, pacing to and fro under a mild, cloudy sky, near the bridge; the birds seemed to have collected there for our especial amusement, but in reality were attracted, no doubt, by insects from the water; it was a greater gathering than we have seen this spring, and several among the party were of more interest than usual. Swallows by scores, chimney, barn, and white-bellied, were sailing about us in ceaseless motion, now passing above, now below the bridge, often so near that we might almost have touched them. A Phoebe-bird sat quietly on a maple branch within a stone's throw, giving us a song ever and anon, as we passed up and down; they have a trick of sitting in that way on the same twig, at no great distance from their nest, and they are much given to build about bridges. Robins were there, of course, they are never out of sight at this season; sparrows were stealing in and out of the bushes, while goldfinches and blue-birds were coming and going. But these were all familiar; it was a couple of little birds fluttering about the blossoms of a red maple, that chiefly attracted our attention, from their novelty; their yellow, and red, and brown markings, and peculiar quick, restless movements among the branches were new to us. They were half an hour in sight, and several times we stood very near the maples where they were feeding; one of them flew away, but the other remained, coming nearer and nearer, from branch to branch, from tree to tree, until he reached the fence by which we stood. We were very anxious to discover what bird it was, for under such circumstances it is tantalizing not to be able to settle the question. We supposed, at first, that they were strangers on their way north, for about this time, many such transient visitors are passing northward, and only loitering here and there by the way. It is not usual, however, for such birds to travel in pairs, and these seemed mated, for after one had flown away down the river, the other showed a strong determination to take the same course, as though there might be the beginning of a nest in that direction. He made a motion toward taking flight, then observing us, stopped; we stood quite still in the walk, the bird sitting on the branch for a minute or more. Then again he made a movement, and took flight in the direction which crossed our path; but, silly little fellow that he was, after flying a yard or two, which brought him immediately before us, where we might easily have struck him with a parasol, his courage failed; he continued fluttering on the spot, or rather lying-to in the air, as a sailor might say, when, awkwardly changing his direction, he flew back to the very branch he had quitted. An unusual manoeuvre this, for a bird; and strangely enough, he repeated this proceeding twice, seeming very anxious to follow his companion down the river, and yet dreading to pass so near such formidable creatures as ourselves. Again he took flight, again he paused and fluttered just before us, again returned to the branch he had left. Silly little thing, he might easily have soared far above us, instead of passing so near, or sitting on a branch where we could have killed him a dozen times over, if wickedly inclined; but he behaved so oddly, that had we been either snakes or witches, we should have been accused of fascinating him. Again, the third time, he took flight, and passing near us as quickly as possible, his heart no doubt beating terribly at the boldness of the feat, he succeeded at last in crossing the bridge and we soon lost sight of him among the bushes on the bank. But while he sat on the branch, and especially as he twice fluttered with distended wings before us, we saw his markings very plainly; they came nearer to those of the yellow red-poll than any other bird of which we could obtain a plate. This is a southern bird, scarcely supposed to breed so far north, I believe, and it is quite possible that the strangers may have been some other variety. The yellow red-poll, however, is said to be very partial to the maple flowers, and these were found feeding on the maple blossoms, hopping from one tree to another.
This pretty stranger had scarcely flown away, when a great awkward kingfisher rose from the river, passing above the bridge, screaming with surprise when he found a human creature nearer than he had supposed; he also flew down the river. Then a party of chicadees alighted among the alder bushes. These were followed by a couple of beautiful little kinglets, ruby crowns, among the smallest of their race; and while all these lesser birds were moving about us, a great hawk, of the largest size, came along from the lake, and continued wheeling for some time over a grove of pines in an adjoining field. We were not learned enough to know what variety of hawk this was, but every other bird of that numerous flockrobins, sparrows, swallows, ruby crowns, blue-birds, goldfinch, Phoebe-bird, chicadee, kingfisher, and the doubtful yellow red-pollwere all varieties peculiar to America.
Thursday, 11th.Black and white creepers in the shrubbery; they are a very pretty bird, so delicately formed. A large party of purple finches also on the lawn; this handsome bird comes from the far north at the approach of severe weather, and winters in different parts of the Union, according to the character of the season; usually remaining about Philadelphia and New York until the middle of May. Some few, however, are known to pass the summer in our northern counties; and we find that a certain number also remain about our own lake, having frequently met them in the woods, and occasionally observed them about the village gardens, in June and July. Their heads and throats are much more crimson than purple just now, and they appear to great advantage, feeding in the fresh grass, the sun shining on their brilliant heads; more than half the party, however, were brown, as usual, the young males and females being without the red coloring. They feed in the spring upon the blossoms of flowering trees; but this afternoon they were eating the seeds out of decayed apples scattered about the orchards.
Also saw again one of the strange birdsyellow red-pollswe watched near the bridge, but could not approach as near as at the first interview; he was in our own garden among the beds, apparently eating insects as well as maple blossoms.
Walked in the woods. The fly-honeysuckle is in full leaf, as well as in flower; it is one of our earliest shrubs. We have several varieties of the honeysuckle tribe in this State. The scarlet honeysuckle, so common in our gardens, is a native plant found in New York, and extending to the southward as far as Carolina. The fragrant woodbine, also cultivated, is found wild in many woods of this State; the yellow honeysuckle grows in the Catskill Mountains; a small variety with greenish yellow flowers, and the hairy honeysuckle with pale yellow blossoms and large leaves, are among our plants. There are also three varieties of the fly-honeysuckle, regular northern plants, one bearing red, another purple, another blue berries; the first is very common here, found in every wood; there is said to be a plant almost identical with this in Tartary.
Friday, 12th.The aspens are in leaf, and look beautifully on the hillside, their tremulous foliage being among the very earliest to play in the spring breezes, as their downy seeds are the first of the year to fly abroad; these are as common in the wood at one moment in the spring, as the thistle-down later in the season among the fields; one often sees them lying in little patches along the highway, looking like a powdering of snow-flakes. The birds of some more delicate tribes use this down to line their neststhe humming-bird, for instance. We have been looking and inquiring for the Tackamahac, the great northern or balsam poplar; it is found at Niagara and on Lake Champlain, but the farmers about here seem to know nothing of it. This is a tree of some interest, from the fact that it preserves its size longer than any other wood as it approaches the pole, and the greater portion of the drift-wood in the arctic seas belong to this species. On the northwest coast, it is said to attain a very great size, one hundred and sixty feet in height, and twenty feet in diameter! Poplars, through their different varieties, appear to stretch far over the globe, some being found in the heart of the warm countries of Southern Europe and Asia, others on the skirts of the arctic regions. The wood used for architectural purposes in the sultry plains of Mesopotamia is said to be almost wholly a variety of the poplar, a native of Armenia, which is the region of the peach.
Saturday, 13th.It still continues showery, in spite of several attempts to clear. We have had much more rain than usual lately. A high gust came sweeping down the valley this afternoon, driving the rain in heavy sheets before the face of the hills, while pines and hemlocks were tossing their arms wildly on the mountain-tops, and even the bare locusts bent low before the wind; white-caps were rolling with much more power than usual in our placid lake; the garden-walks and the roads were flooded in a moment, and pools formed in every hollow on the lawn; the water literally poured down upon us as if from some other receptacle than the clouds. Let us hope this is the closing shower, for one longs to be abroad in the woods again.
Monday, 15th.Beautiful day. Long drive and walk in the hills and woods. While we have been housed in the village, how much has been going on abroad! The leaves are opening rapidly, many of the scarlet maples have their foliage quite formed and colored, though scarcely full-sized yet. The old chestnuts and oaks are in movement, the leaves of the last coming out quite pinkish, a bit of finery of which one would hardly suspect the chiefs of the forest, but so it was in Chaucer's time,
"Every tree well from his fellowes greweVery many of the trees open their leaf-buds with a warm tint in the green; either brown, or pink, or purplish. Just now, the leaves of the June-berry are dark reddish brown, in rich contrast with its white, pendulous flowers. Some of the small oak leaves, especially those of the younger trees, are the deepest crimson; the sugar maples are faintly colored; the scarlet maples, on the contrary, are pure green, seeming to have given all their color to the flowers; the mountain maples are highly colored, and the bracts of the moose-wood are quite rosy, as well as some of their leaves. Elms seem to be always green, and so are the beeches; the black birch is faintly tinged with russet at first; the others are quite green. The ashes and hickory are a very light green. It is said that this tenderness and variety of tint in the verdure, so charming in spring as we know the season, belongs especially to a temperate climate. In tropical countries, the buds unguarded by bracts like our own are said to be much darker; and in arctic regions, the young leaves are also said to be of a darker color. One would like to know if this last assertion be really correct, as it seems difficult to account for the fact.
With branches broad; laden with leaves new,
That springen out against the sunne's sheene,
Some very red, and some a glad light greene."
Flowers are unfolding on all sidesin the fields, along the roadside, by the fences, and in the silent forest. One cannot go far, on any path, without finding some fresh blossoms. This is a delightful moment everywhere, but in the woods the awakening of spring must ever be especially fine. The chill sleep of winter in a cold climate is most striking within the forest; and now we behold life and beauty awakening there in every object; the varied foliage clothing in tender wreaths every naked branch, the pale mosses reviving, a thousand young plants rising above the blighted herbage of last year in cheerful succession, and ten thousand sweet flowers standing in modest beauty where, awhile since, all was dull and lifeless.
Violets are found everywhere; the moose-flowers are increasing in numbers; young strawberry blossoms promise a fine crop of fruit; the whortleberry-cups are hanging thickly on their low branches, and the early elders are showing their dark, chocolate flower-buds, which we should never expect to open white. The ferns are also unrolling their long, colored fans. We gathered some ground laurel, but the squirrel-cups are forming their seeds.
Tuesday, 16th.Warm, cloudy day. The weather clears slowly, but the air is delightful, so soft and bland. Strolled away from the village in quiet fields by the river, where sloping meadows and a border of wood shut one out from the world. Sweetly calm; nothing stirring but the river flowing gently past, and a few solitary birds flitting quietly to and fro, like messengers of peace. The sunshine is scarcely needed to enhance the beauty of May. The veil of a cloudy sky seems, this evening, to throw an additional charm over the sweetness of the season.
At hours like these, the immeasurable goodness, the infinite wisdom of our Heavenly Father, are displayed in so great a degree of condescending tenderness to unworthy, sinful man, as must appear quite incomprehensibleentirely incredible to reason alonewere it not for the recollection of the mercies of past years, the positive proofs of experience; while Faith, with the holy teaching of Revelation, proclaims "the Lord, the Lord God, merciful, and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in mercy and goodness." What have the best of us done to merit one such day in a lifetime of follies and failings and sins? The air we breathe so pure and balmy, the mottled heavens above so mild and kindly, the young herb beneath our feet so delicately fresh, every plant of the field decked in beauty, every tree of the forest clothed in dignity, all unite to remind us, that, despite our own unworthiness, "God's mercies are new every day."
Perhaps some of us have carried heavy hearts about with us during the month of May. There is sorrow on earth amid the joys of spring as at other seasons, but at this gracious and beautiful period the works of the Great Creator unite in themselves to cheer the sad. Often during hours of keen regret, of bitter disappointment, of heavy grief, man is called upon to acknowledge how powerless is the voice of his fellow-man when offering consolation. It seems as though at such moments the witty become dull, the eloquent tedious, the wise insipid, so little are they enabled to effect. Not, indeed, that true friendship has no balm to offer the afflicted; the sympathy of those is ever precious, and God forbid we should despise one kindly feeling, one gentle word. But as the days roll onward amid the sorrows, the strifes, the deceits, the cares which beset our path, it must often happen that the full measure of our griefit may be of our weaknesswill be known to our Maker only. We often need much more than sympathy. The wisest and greatest among us often require guidance, support, strength; and for these, when they fail on earth we must look above. Blessed is the Christian who has then at hand the Word of God, with its holy precepts, its treasures of eternal comfort. How often to hearts long since passed into dust, have its sacred pages proved the one source of light when all else was darkness! And, from the Book of Life, let the mourner turn to the works of his God; there the eye, which has been pained with the sight of disorder and confusion, will be soothed with beauty and excellence; the ear, wearied with the din of folly and falsehood, will gladly open to sounds of gentle harmony from the gay birds, the patient cattle, the flowing waters, the rustling leaves. It was not merely to gratify the outer senses of man that these good gifts were bestowed on the earth; they were made for our hearts, the ever present expression of love, and mercy, and power. When the spirit is harassed by the evils of life, it is then the works of God offer to us most fully the strengthening repose of a noble contemplation; it is when the soul is stricken and sorrowful, that it turns to the wise and beautiful smile of the creation for a clearer view of peace and excellence:
"Vernal delight and joy, able to driveChristian men of ancient times were wont to illustrate the pages of the Holy Scriptures with choice religious paintings and delicate workmanship; they sent far and wide for the most beautiful colors; they labored to attain the purest lines, the most worthy expression, the most noble design. Not a page did they leave unadorned, not a letter where each was formed by the hand, but showed the touch of a master;not a blank leaf nor a margin, but bore some delicate traces of pious labors. And thus, to-day, when the precious Book of Life has been withdrawn from the cloisters and given to us all, as we bear its sacred pages about in our hands, as we carry its holy words in our hearts, we raise our eyes to the skies above, we send them abroad over the earth, alike full of the glory of Almighty Majesty,great and worthy illuminations of the written Word of God.
All sadness but despair."
Coming home through the fields, we found an old pine stretched its entire length on the grass; it must have lain there for years, slowly mouldering away, for it was decayed throughout and fallen asunder in many places, so as to follow the curving surface of the ground, but the whole line was entire, and measuring it with a parasol, we made its height to be more than a hundred feet, although something was wanting at the summit. Its diameter, without the bark, was less than two feet.
Wednesday, 17th.Pleasant weather. In our early walk, before breakfast, we found many of the bob'links playing over the meadows, singing as they flew, their liquid, gurgling medley falling on the ear, now here, now there. These birds build on the ground among the grass or grain, but often perch on the trees. They are one of the few birds about us who sing on the wing, and are almost wholly meadow-birds, rarely coming into the village. Saw summer yellow-birds also, more wholly golden, and of a deeper color than the goldfinch, but not so prettily formed.
Many young leaves are dotting the trees now, spray and foliage both showing. The woods are quite green; the rapidity with which the leaves unfold between sunrise and sunset, or during a night, is truly wonderful! The long, graceful catkins are drooping from the birches, and the more slender clusters are also in flower on the oaks. The beeches are behind most forest trees, but the leaves and some of the flowers are coming out here and there. It is given as a general rule, that those trees which keep their leaves longest in autumn are the earliest in spring, but the beech is a striking exception to this; preserving its withered leaves tenaciously even through the winter, but putting out the new foliage after many of its companions are quite green. The Comptonia or sweet-fern is in flower, the brown, catkin-like blossoms are nearly as fragrant as the foliage; it is the only fern we have with woody branches.
Evening, 9o'clock.The frogs are keeping up a vigorous bass, and really, about these times, they often perform the best part of the concert. Just at this season, the early morning and late evening hours are not the most musical moments with the birds; family cares have begun, and there was a good deal of the nursery about the grove of evergreens in the rear of the house, to-night. It was amusing to watch the parents flying home, and listen to the family talk going on; there was a vast deal of twittering and fluttering before settling down in the nest, husband and wife seemed to have various items of household information to impart to each other, and the young nestlings made themselves heard very plainly; one gathered a little scolding, too, on the part of some mother-robins. Meanwhile, the calm, full bass of the frogs comes up from the low grounds with a power that commands one's attention, and is far from unpleasing. It reminds one of the oboe of an orchestra.
Thursday, 18th.The violets abound now, everywhere, in the grassy fields, and among the withered leaves of the forest; many of them grow in charming little tufts, a simple nosegay in themselves; one finds them in this way in the prettiest situations possible, the yellow, the blue, and the white. A pretty habit, this, with many of our early flowers, growing in little sisterhoods, as it were; we rarely think of the violets singly, as of the rose, or the lily; we always fancy them together, one lending a grace to another, amid their tufted leaves.
There are many different varieties. Botanists count some fifteen sorts in this part of the country, and with one or two exceptions, they are all probably found in our neighborhood. There are some eight different kinds of the blue, or purple, or gray, these colors often changing capriciously; three more are yellow; three more again are white, and one is parti-colored or tri-color; the blue and purple are the largest. Some of these are very beautiful, with every grace of color or form one could desire in a violet, but not one is fragrant. It seems strange, that with all the dewy freshness and beauty of their kind, they should want this charm of the violet of the Old World; but so it is. Still, they are too pleasing and too common a flower to find fault with, even though scentless. The European violet, however, is not always fragrant; some springs they are said to lose their odor entirelythe English violet, at least, which has been attributed to the dryness of the season.
Our yellow varieties are great ornaments of the spring, and very common, though not so abundant or large as the purple; one kind, the earliest, grows in little companies of bright, golden blossoms, which are often out before the leaves.
"Ere rural fields their green resume,Another is much larger, and grows singly.
Sweet flower, I love in forest bare
To meet thee, when thy faint perfume
Alone is in the virgin air."
The white are quite small, but singularly enough, one of these is fragrant, though the perfume is not so exquisite as that of the European violet; the sweet, white kind are sometimes gathered as late as August. The tri-color is a large and solitary plant, and I have known it fragrant, though it does not appear to be always so. The violets of the western prairies are said to be slightly fragrant, although the other flowers of that part of the country have generally no perfume.
Friday, 19th.Fine, bright weather. The apple-trees are in blossomthey opened last night by moonlight; not one was in flower yesterday, now the whole orchard is in bloom. The orioles have been running over the fresh flowers all the morning, talking to each other, meanwhile, in their clear, full tones. Delightful walk in the evening. We went down to the Great Meadow, beyond Mill Island; the wood which borders it was gay with the white blossoms of the wild cherries and June-berry, the wild plum and the hobble-bush, all very common with us. The evening air was delicately perfumed throughout the broad field, but we could not discover precisely the cause of the fragrance, as it did not seem stronger at one point than at another; it was rather a medley of all spring odors. The June-berry is slightly fragrant, something like the thorn.
We found numbers of the white moose-flowers, the great petals of the larger sorts giving them an importance which no other early flower of the same date can claim. There are several varieties of these flowers; they are quite capricious as regards coloring and size, some being as large as lilies, others not half that size; many are pure white, others dark, others again are flushed with pale pink, or lilac, while one kind, with white petals, is marked about the heart with rich carmine tracery. Now you find one pendulous, while another by its side bears its flowers erect. Botanists call them all Trilliums, and a countrywoman told me, the other day, they were all "moose-flowers." Each variety, however, has a scientific name of its own, and some are called nightshades; others wake-robins, both names belonging properly to very different plants. The true English wake robin is an arum. The difference in their fruit is remarkable. The flowers, so much alike to the general observer, are succeeded by berries of two distinct characters: some resemble the hips of sweet-briar in color and size, though terminating in a sharp point; others bear a dark, purple fruit, strongly ribbed, but rounded in character. I have seen these as large as the common cherry. Though very similar in their growth, leaves, and petals, the hearts of the plants differ materially, a very simple solution of what at first strikes one as singular. We found only the white flowers, this evening, growing on the skirts of the field. It is rare to meet them beyond the woods, as they disappear before cultivation; and these looked as though they had just stepped out of the forest to take a peep at the world.
The border of an old wood is fine ground for flowers. The soil is usually richer than common, while the sun is felt there with greater power than farther within the shady bounds. One is almost sure of finding blossoms there at the right season. In such spots we also meet a mingled society of plants which it is interesting to note. The wild natives of the woods grow there willingly, while many strangers, brought originally from over the ocean, steal gradually onward from the tilled fields and gardens, until at last they stand side by side upon the same bank, the European weed and the wild native flower.
These foreign intruders are a bold and hardy race, driving away the prettier natives. It is frequently remarked by elderly persons familiar with the country, that our own wild flowers are very much less common than they were forty years since. Some varieties are diminishing rapidly. Flowers are described to us by those on whom we can place implicit reliance, which we search for in vain to-day. The strange pitcher-plant is said to have been much more common, and the moccasin flower abounded formerly even within the present limits of the village. Both are now rare, and it is considered a piece of good luck to find them. The fragrant azalea is also said to have colored the side-hills in earlier times, of spots where they are now only found scattered here and there.
Saturday, 20th.The cat-birds are mewing about the grounds. They have been here some little time, usually stealing upon us unawares. They are as common here as elsewhere, and as partial to the society of man. A pair of these birds built for several successive years in an adjoining garden, and became quite fearless and familiar, always seeming pleased when the owner of the garden appeared to work there, according to his custom, giving him a song by way of greeting, and fluttering about close at hand as long as he remained. Last year the family moved away, but we still see the cat-birds on the same spot, quite at home. Probably they are the same pair.
Monday, 22nd.The apple-blossoms are charmingly fragrant now; they have certainly the most delightful perfume of all our northern fruit-trees.
The later forest-trees are coming into leaf: the black walnuts, butternuts, sumachs, hickories, ashes, and locusts. Trees with that kind of pinnated foliage seem to be later than others. The locust is always the last to open its leaves; they are just beginning to show, and a number of others, which partake of the same character of foliage, have only preceded them by a week or so. The springs are all running beautifully clear and full now. Corn planted to-day.
Tuesday, 23d.The small, yellow butterflies are fluttering about. These are much the most numerous of their tribe; with us among the earliest to appear in spring, and the latest to retreat before the frosts in autumn.
Wednesday, 24th.Warm and pleasant. The woods may now be called in leaf, though the foliage is still a tender green, and some of the leaves are not full-sized. The maples, however, so numerous in our woods, have already acquired their deep, rich summer verdure. The young shoots have started on the hemlocks, each twig being tipped with tender green, a dozen shades lighter than the rest of the foliage. These delicate light touches are highly ornamental to the tree, and give it a peculiar beauty half through the summer, for they take the darker shade very slowly. The difference between the greens of the two years' growth is more striking on the hemlock than on any other evergreen remembered at this moment, either the pine, the balsam, or the Norway fir.
The hemlock spruce is a very common tree in this part of the country, and an imposing evergreen, ranking in height with the tallest oaks, and ashes, and elms of the forest. They are frequently met with eighty feet high. The other day, walking in the woods, we measured one which had just been felled, and it proved a hundred and four feet in height, and three feet two inches in diameter, without the bark. When young bushes, only a few feet high, they are beautiful, especially when tipped with the delicate green of the young spring shoots; their horizontal branches, often sweeping the ground, look as though they had no other object in view than to form beautiful shrubbery, very different in this respect from the young pines, which have a determined upright growth from the first, betraying their ambition to become trees as early as possible. The usual verdure of the hemlock is very dark and glossy, lying in double rows flat upon the branches. The younger spray often hangs in loose drooping tufts, and the whole tree is more or less sprinkled with pretty little cones which are very ornamental. As the hemlock grows older, it becomes often irregular, dead limbs projecting here and there, well hung with long, drooping lichens of light green, which give it a venerable aspect. Altogether it is the most mossy tree we have.
Trees sixteen inches in diameter are now selling in our neighborhood for a dollar apiece, standing, when taken by the hundred. Pine-trees, standing, sell for five dollars, although they often produce forty dollars' worth of lumber. The porcupine is said to have been very partial to the leaves and bark of the hemlock for food.
Friday, 25th.Beautiful day. The flowers are blooming in throngs. Our spring garland becomes fuller and richer every day. The white cool-wort 1 is mingled in light and airy tufts with the blue and yellow violets. The low-cornel is opening; its cups are greenish now, but they will soon bleach to a pure white. The elegant silvery May-star is seen here and there; by its side the tall, slender mitella, while warm, rose-colored gay-wings are lying among the mosses, and each of these flowers has an interest for those who choose to make their acquaintance.
Who at first glance would think that the low-cornel, growing scarce half a span high, is cousin-german to the dogwood, which boasts the dignity of a tree? A most thrifty little plant it is, making a pretty white flower of its outer cupwhich in most plants is greenand after this has fallen, turning its whole heart to fruit; for wherever we now see one of the simple white blossoms in its whorl of large green leaves, there we shall find, in August, a cluster of good-sized scarlet berries. I have counted sixteen of these in one bunch, looking like so many coral beads. Although each plant stands singly, they are very freely scattered about the wood, a hardy plant, growing far to the northward wherever pine-trees are found.
The May-star 1 is remarkable for its elegance, a delicate star-like blossom of the purest white standing like a gem in a setting of leaves, fine in texture and neatly cut. Some persons call this chick wintergreen, a name which is an insult to the plant, and to the common sense of the community. Why, it is one of the daintiest wood-flowers, with nothing in the world to do with chicks, or weeds, or winter. It is not the least of an evergreen, its leaves withering in autumn, as a matter of course, and there is not a chicken in the country that knows it by sight or taste. Discriminating people, when they find its elegant silvery flower growing in the woods beside the violet, call it May-star; and so should everybody who sees it.
The cool-wort grows in patches upon many banks within the woods, or near them. It is a very pretty flower from its light, airy character, and the country people employ its broad, violet-shaped leaves for healing purposes. They lay them, freshly gathered, on scalds and burns, and, like all domestic receipts of the sort, they never fail, of course, but "work like a charm;" that is to say, as charms worked some hundred years ago. It is the leaves only that are used in this way, and we have seen persons who professed to have been much benefited by them.
The slender mitella, or fringe-cup, or false sanicleone does not like a false name for a flowerhangs its tiny white cups at intervals on a tall, slender, two-leaved stalk; a pretty, unpretending little thing, which scatters its black seeds very early in the season. It is one of the plants we have in common with Northern Asia.
As for the May-wings, 1 or "gay-wings," they are in truth one of the gayest little blossoms we have; growing low as they do and many of their winged flowers together, you might fancy them so many warm lilac, or deep rose-colored butterflies resting on the mosses. They are bright, cheerful little flowers, seldom found singly, but particularly social in their habits; twin blossoms very often grow on the same stalk, and at times you find as many as four or five; we have occasionally gathered clusters of a dozen or eighteen blossoms in one tuft, upon three or four stalks. They bloom here in profusion on the borders of the woods, by the roadside, and in some fields; we found them a day or two since, mingled with the dandelions, in a low meadow by the river; but they are especially fond of growing among the mosses, the most becoming position they could choose, their warm-colored flowers lying in brilliant relief upon the dark rich ground-work. How beautiful is this exquisite native grace of the flowers, seen in all their habits and positions! They know nothing of vanity, its trivial toils and triumphs! In unconscious, spontaneous beauty, they live their joy-giving lives, and yet how all but impossible for man to add to their perfection in a single point! In their habits of growth, this innate grace may be particularly observed; there is a unity, a fitness, in the individual character of each plant to be traced most closely, not only in form, or leaf, and stem, but also in the position it chooses, and all the various accessories of its brief existence. It is this that gives to the field and wood flowers a charm beyond those of the garden. Go out in the month of May and June into the nearest fields and groves, and you shall see there a thousand sweet plants, sowed by the gracious hand of Providence, blooming amid the common grass, in crevices of rude rocks, beside the trickling springs, upon rough and shaggy banks, with a freedom and a simple modest grace which must ever be the despair of gardeners, since it is quite inimitable by art, with all its cunning.
Saturday, 29th.Charming day; walked in the woods. Accidentally breaking away a piece of decayed wood from the dead trunk of a tree, we found a snake coiled within; it seemed to be torpid, for it did not move; we did, howeverretreating at once, not caring to make a nearer acquaintance with the creature.
There are not many snakes in the neighborhood; one seldom sees them either in the fields or in the woods, though occasionally they cross our path. The most common are the harmless little garter snakes, with now and then a black-snake. Not long since, the workmen at the Cliffs were making a road, and two of them taking up a log to move it, a large black-snake, astonished to find his dwelling in motion, came hurrying out; he was said to have been three or four feet in length. But I have never yet heard of any persons being injured by a snake in this neighborhood; most of these creatures are quite harmlessindeed, of the sixteen varieties found in the State, only two are venomous, the copper-head and the rattlesnake.
There is a mountain in the county, the Crumhorn, where rattlesnakes formerly abounded, and where they are said to be still found, but fortunately these dangerous reptiles are of a very sluggish nature, and seldom stray from the particular locality which suits their habits, and where they are generally very numerous. An instance is on record, quoted by Dr. De Kay, in which three men, who went upon Tongue Mountain, on Lake George, for the purpose of hunting rattlesnakes, destroyed in two days eleven hundred and four of these venomous creatures! They are taken for their fat, which is sold at a good price.
We found this afternoon a very pretty little butterfly, pink and yellow; it seemed to be quite young, and scarcely in full possession of its powers yet; we thought it a pity to interfere with its happy career but just begun, and left it unharmed as we found it.
"Thus the fresh clarion, being readie dight,Monday, 28th.Cloudy day. Pleasant row on the lake. The country, as seen from the water, looked charmingly, decked in the flowery trophies of May. Many of the fruit-trees are still in blossom in the orchards and gardens, while the wild cherries and plums were drooping over the water in many spots. The evening was perfectly still, not a breath to ruffle the lake, and the soft spring character of the hills and fields, bright with their young verdure, had stolen over the waters. Swallows were skimming about busily. We met several boats; one of them, filled with little girls, in their colored sun-bonnets, and rowed by an older boy, looked gayly as it passed. We landed and gathered the singular flower of the dragon arum, or Indian turnip, as the country folk call it, violets also, and a branch of wild cherry.
Unto his journey did himself addresse,
And with good speed began to take his flight
Over the fields in his frank lustiness;
And all the champaine o'er he soared light,
And all the country wide he did possesse;
Feeding upon his pleasures bounteouslie,
That none gainsaid, nor none did him envie."
Tuesday, 29th.Among all the varieties of birds flitting about our path during the pleasant months, there is not one which is a more desirable neighbor than the house-wren. Coming early in spring, and going late in autumn, he is ready at any time, the season through, to give one a song. Morning, noon, or evening, in the moonshine, or under a cloudy sky, he sings away out of pure joyousness of heart. They are pretty little creatures, too, nicely colored, and very delicate in their forms. For several summers, we had a nest built under the eaves of a low roof projecting within a few feet of a window, and many a time our little friend, perched on a waving branch of the Virginia creeper, would sing its sweetest song, while the conversation within doors was hushed to hear him. His return has been anxiously watched for, this spring, but in vain. If in the neighborhood, he no longer builds in the same spot.
But the wrens have many merits besides their prettiness, and their sweet voice. They are amusing, cheerful little creatures, and they are very true-hearted, moreover. The parents are particularly attentive to each other, and are kind to their family, which is a large one, for they raise two broods during the summer. Unlike other birds, they do not discard their children, but keep an eye on the first set, while making ready for the younger ones. Nor are the young birds themselves eager to run off and turn rovers; they live all together in little family parties through the season, and in autumn you frequently see them in this way, eight or ten together, feeding on the haws of the thorn-bushes, of which they are very fond.
He is a very great builder, also, is the wren. He seems to think, like that famous old Countess of yore, Bess of Shrewsbury, that he is doomed to build for his life. Frequently while his mate is sitting, he will build you several useless nests, just for his own gratification; singing away all the time, and telling his more patient mate, perhaps, what straws he picks up, and where he finds them. Sometimes, when he first arrives, if not already mated, he will build his house, and then look out for a wife afterwards. It is a pity they should not stay with us all winter, these pleasant little friends of ours, like the European wren, who never migrates, and sings all the year round. It is true, among the half dozen varieties which visit us, there is the winter wren, who remains during the cold weather in some parts of the State; but we do not see him here after the snow has fallen, and at best he appears much less musical than the summer bird. Our common house-wren is a finer singer than the European bird; but he flies far to the southward, in winter, and sings Spanish in Mexico and South America. It is quite remarkable that this common bird, the house-wren, though passing North and South every year, should be unknown in Louisiana; yet Mr. Audubon tells us such is the case.
The mandrakes, or May-apples, are in flower. They are certainly a handsome plant, as their showy white flower is not unlike the water-lily. Some people eat their fruitboys especiallybut most persons find it insipid. This common showy plant, growing along our fences and in many meadows, is said also to be found under a different variety in the hilly countries of Central Asia. One likes to trace these links, connecting lands and races so far apart, reminding us, as they do, that the earth is the common home of all.
Thursday, 30th.The springs are all full to overflowing, this season. Some trickling down the hill-sides, through the shady woods, many more sparkling in the open sunshine of the meadows. Happily for us, they flow freely here. We forget to value justly a blessing with which we are so richly endowed, until we hear of other soils, and that within the limits of our own country, too, where the thirsty traveller and his weary beast count it a piece of good fortune to find a pure, wholesome draught at the close of their day's toil.
This is decidedly a spring county. Mineral waters of powerful medicinal qualities are scattered about within a circuit of twenty miles from the lake. There are several within the limits of the village itself, but these have little strength. Others farther off have long been used for their medicinal propertiesvile messes to tasteand sending up an intolerable stench of sulphur, but beautifully clear and cool. There is a salt spring also at no great distance from the lake, said to be the most easterly of the saline springs in this part of the country, and at a distance of some eighty miles from the great salt works of Onondaga.
A portion of our waters are hard, touched with the limestone, through which they find their way to the surface; but there are many more possessing every good quality that the most particular housewife can desire for cooking her viands, or bleaching her linen. Near the farm-house doors you frequently see them falling from a wooden pipe into a trough, hollowed out of the trunk of a tree, the rudest of fountains; and the same arrangement is made here and there, along the highway, for the benefit of the traveller and his cattle.
One likes to come upon a spring in a walk. This afternoon, we were seldom out of sight of one. We counted more than a dozen distinct fountain-heads within a distance of a mile. One filled a clear, sandy pool, on level, grassy ground, near the bank of the river; another, within the forest, lay in a little rocky basin, lined with last year's leaves; another fell in full measure over a dark cliff, moistening a broad space of the rock, which, in winter, it never fails to cover with a sheet of frost-work. More than one lay among the roots of the forest trees; and others, again, kept us company on the highway, running clear and bubbling through the ditches by the roadside. There is a quiet beauty about them all which never fails to give pleasure. There is a grace in their purityin their simplicitywhich is soothing to the spirit; and, perhaps among earth's thousand voices, there is none other so sweetly humble, so lowly, yet so cheerful, as the voice of the gentle springs passing on their way to fill our daily cup.
When standing beside these unfettered springs in the shady wood, one seems naturally to remember the red man; recollections of his vanished race linger there in a more definite form than elsewhere; we feel assured that by every fountain among these hills, the Indian brave, on the hunt or the war-path, must have knelt ten thousand times, to slake his thirst, and the wild creatures, alike his foes and his companions, the tawny panther, the clumsy bear, the timid deer, and the barking wolf, have all lapped these limpid waters during the changing seasons of past ages. Nay, it is quite possible there may still be springs in remote spots among the hills of this region, yet untasted by the white man and his flocks, where the savage and the beast of prey were the last who drank. And while these recollections press upon us, the flickering shadows of the wood seem to assume the forms of the wild creatures which so lately roamed over these hills, and we are half persuaded that the timid doe or the wily catamount is again drawing near to drink from the fountain at our feetwe hear the crash of a dry branch, or the rustling of leaves, and we start as though expecting to see the painted warrior, armed with flint-headed arrows and tomahawk of stone, gliding through the wood toward us. It was but yesterday that such beings peopled the forest, beings with as much of life as runs within our own veins, who drank their daily draught from the springs we now call our own; yesterday they were here, to-day scarce a vestige of their existence can be pointed out among us.
Friday, 31st.Thunder-shower this afternoon, everything growing finely. The blackberry-bushes, very common here, are coming into flower along the roadsides and fences. The white thorn is also blooming; there is a rustic elegance about its clusters which leads one readily to admit its claims as a favorite of the poetsthe form of this flower is so simple, and the colored heads of the stamens are so daintily pretty; it has been opening for several days, and many of the bushes, or trees rather, are in full flower. In this hilly climate, it blossoms late, still it saves its credit as the flower of May; in the rural districts of England, "the May" is said to be a common name for the hawthorn.
Walked about the shrubbery with the hope of finding a rose open, but our search was fruitless. Last year a few of the early kind bloomed in May, but the present season is more backward. With us, the roses scarcely belong to spring, we should rather date our summer from their unfolding; the bushes were never more full of buds, however, and some of these are beginning to disclose their coloring; but the greater number are still closely shut within their fringed cups. Later in the season, we become criticalwe reject the full-blown flower for the half-open bud, but just now we are eager to feast our eyes upon a rosea true, perfect rosewith all her beauties opening to the light, all her silken petals unfolding in rich profusion about her fragrant heart.
1 Sometimes twenty feet high, in this county.
2 The sugar maple does not thrive in England; seldom growing there to more than fifteen feet in height. The silver maple, on the contrary, succeeds very well in Europe.[Page 54]
1 Tiarella cordifolia.[Page 55]
1 Trientalis Americana.[Page 56]
1 Polygala paucifolia.